Charles Allen Bacon.

The Oliver plow book : a treatise on plows and plowing online

. (page 3 of 10)
Online LibraryCharles Allen BaconThe Oliver plow book : a treatise on plows and plowing → online text (page 3 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

forms a powdered surface. Among these peculiarities
of clay the fact that it holds moisture longest, bakes
hardest, and forms clods easiest should be a warning that
the greatest of care must be exercised in plowing dry
clay soils, if there is a possibility of rainy weather com-
ing between the time of plowing and planting, because
the dry soil in this powdered condition will run into a
sticky, plastic mass which will later dry hard and crack



In this specimen of clay loam soil the peculiarities of clay predominate
but the smaller clods to the right show that this soil can be pulverized
more effectively than the clay soil.

The finer pulverized earth distinguishes this clay loam from the clay
soil, but many of the distinguishing characteristics of clay can be readily


so that it cannot be broken up successfully by any kind
of cultivation. This peculiarity of clay has led many
farmers to ridicule so called scientific methods of farm-


ing because they were told that it was impossible to
disk or harrow too much. A winter's freezing is the
only successful treatment for rectifying the evil done by
plowing a dry, clay soil lacking in humus and within the
limit of abundant rainfall and planting the crop.
Farmers who live in climates where there is no oppor-
tunity for freezing can ponder with a great deal of
profit upon this problem.

It is common knowledge that a soil plowed wet will
dry out more rapidly than unplowed soil. Plowing wet
clay has the same effect that plowing a wet sand soil has
as far as the drying out is concerned but with entirely
different results. Clay, being of a plastic nature and
sticking close together, is puddled by wet plowing. It is
turned over in a closely compacted manner so that the
top drys out first leaving a slower drying process for the
bottom of the furrow. This naturally means that
avenues of escape must be formed for the moisture below.
These avenues will appear at the place of least resistance
in the soil. These places are caused by the action of
the mouldboard in turning over the soil. The result is
a cloddy formation at the bottom of the seed bed which
locks up the soil fertility in the clods, interferes with the
upward trend of capillarity and makes absolutely im-
possible a final preparation of the seed bed. The plow
mouldboard working in wet clay performs exactly the
same operation as a brick making machine does in
molding the clay into bricks, hence in the handling of
clay soils the plowing must be done at a season of the
year when clods will not be formed.

When one considers that clay soil holds moisture
longer than any other type of soil it is obvious that clay



This specimen of loamy soil does not reveal either of the character-
istics of the clay or the sand but does show a combination of the two in
such form as to make, this soil readily tillable.

Observe in this plowing the absence of large clods and the same granular
tpearance that is plainly noticeable in the illustration above.


land tilled in such a way as to conserve moisture will
stand drouth much better than coarser grained soils.

Fall plowing of clay soils in climates where the ground
freezes deep enough to separate the soil particles is
becoming more generally practiced. The reason is that


whether or not the ground is in ideal condition for plow-
ing in the fall it can be turned over covering up the
vegetation so that it will rot during the winter, and in
the spring when the ground thaws the soil will be in
condition for the successful making of a seed bed pro-
viding it is not harrowed when wet. Care must be
exercised however, in fall plowing of clay soils, to leave
the ground rough because if it is left in a smooth con-
dition the surface soil will run together by the action of
the water in the spring, bake, and form a crust that will
be difficult to handle. The principle underlying all this
is simply the importance of permitting the surface
moisture to escape and holding that which is below in
the ground. If this idea is thoroughly understood the
handling of clay soils need not necessarily be difficult,
but one must have enough power on his farm and the
right kind of plow to do this work when moisture con-
ditions are right. The unfortunate part of putting off
plowing clay soils until spring is that the farmer is taking
one of three chances. The soil may be ideal for plowing,
it may be too dry or it may be too wet. When the soil
is ideal everything is propitious, no damage done. When
the ground is too dry it is impossible to make an ideal
seed bed on account of one of the two extremes the
ground plows up into either hard clods or fine dust.
When the ground is too wet the condition that has been
mentioned previously in reference to puddling of clay
soils obtains. It is doubtful whether one would take
such chances if he thoroughly understood the damage
he is doing by postponing the plowing. Of course, the
argument that farmers do not have time to fall plow
every year carries a great deal of weight because it is
absolutely true. But why is it not possible to plan a
crop routine in which this principle is taken into con-



In this specimen of sandy loam traces of the clay are noticeable but
the sand predominates. Obviously the selection of a plow for turning
this type of soil must be different from that used in plowing clay soils.

Observe the characteristics of the 'sandy loam soil in this picture, and
also the different manner in which the furrows are laid from that shown
in the plowing of clay on page thirty -nine.

sideration? A great many farmers are now following
such plans and the results show the wisdom of this

Loamy soils are made up of sand and clay in such
composition that the identity of each is lost. When pressed


between the thumb and finger a granular, raw feeling is
distinctly noticeable. It has neither the rough, gritty
feeling of the sand nor the smooth, slippery feeling of
the clay. A ball of dry loam is porous while a ball of
dry clay is compact. Loam crumbles readily, making
it easy to plow and cultivate. It dries out faster than
clay, and slower than sandy soils. It does not form
hard, unbreakable clods like clay, nor does it crumble so
easily as sand. It forms into a mellow, compact seed
bed, and gives the farmer more return for poor cultiva-
tion than any other soil. These characteristics of loam
undoubtedly give rise to the statement that anyone can
throw seed into the ground and it will grow, meaning, of
course, that anyone can farm. .

The expression, clay loam, means that the clay pre-
dominates in the composition, and sandy loam means
that the sand predominates in the composition, there-
fore, the handling of a loamy soil must be more inclined
towards the soil which predominates. That is, a clay
loam soil should be handled more like a clay soil and a
sandy loam should be treated more like sandy soil.
Clay loam is much easier to plow and cultivate than
clay because the sand in the loam breaks up the com-
pact relationship between the clay particles. It has
much the same texture as clay soil. It can be worked
to better advantage than clay soil when wet, although
not successfully. It forms a more compact and mellow
s*eed bed. The cloddy formation is less predominant
than in clay. It has the clay characteristics of cracking
and drying out and must be handled in such a way as to
prevent this.

Sandy loam can be told very readily by its grain.
Sometimes the particles are large enough to be easily



This specimen of sandy soil shows how quickly it dries out. The
blurred portion to the right was caused by the soil drying and falling
at the moment the photographer was exposing the negative.

In this illustration of plowing sandy soil the furrows are regular in
shape from one end to the other. The finely pulverized ground is just
as noticeable in the plowed field as in the specimen shown above.


seen by the naked eye. They can always be distin-
guished by the use of a magnifying glass. A sandy,
gritty feeling is noticeable when rubbing the soil between
the thumb and finger. This is a never-failing way of
recognizing a sandy soil of any character. The sandy
loam, as the name signifies, is a mixture of sand and
clay, with the sand in larger quantity than the clay.
This makes it a less porous soil than the loamy sand,
but more porous than clay. It works up easily,
does not form hard, unbreakable clods, and is particularly
well adapted to the growth of tuber crops. It does not
require so much effort to plow or work up into a seed
bed as clay loam, but requires more effort than the
loamy sand.

Loamy sand is a combination of sand and loam in
different degrees than sandy loam. Sandy loam con-
tains more loam than sand, and loamy sand more sand
than loam. The easiest and best way to distinguish be-
tween these two types of soil is to make them into balls.
The sandy loam will hold its shape, while the loamy sand
will not. Loamy sand dries out the quickest of any
type of soil. It is the easiest to plow, it never forms
clods, is coarse grained, and is easily distinguished by
the gritty feeling experienced by rubbing it between the
thumb and forefinger. It is a soil that has to be handled
with the greatest of care or it will produce nothing. It
readily blows on account of the rapidity with which it
dries out.

The grains of sand are much coarser than particles of
clay. Obviously, there will be larger air spaces. These
air spaces permit moisture to percolate downward rapid-
ly. Sand, in a loose condition is thus easily packed by a
heavy rain. The water percolating downward naturally


carries with it the grains of sand until they strike other
grains and cannot be carried farther. Thus, the process
continues until the final arrangement of all the soil
grains is such that there is no further opportunity for
the force of gravity to operate. This principle must be
carried constantly in mind when farming sandy soils
because the water compacting the soil in this manner on
its downward trend makes the finest capillary connec-
tion possible between the top of the ground and the
lower surface. Thus, when the weather warms to
such an extent that water vaporizes on the surface,
moisture is drawn from below by capillary attraction
with great rapidity. The only way that this can be
stopped is by changing the relationship of the soil
particles on the surface. This can be brought about by
the use of any implement that will stir the soil. What-
ever implement is used, the relationship of the soil
particles must be entirely changed so that the moisture
from below cannot escape into the air by capillary at-

With this understanding it naturally follows that
sandy soils require more frequent liming, fertilizing and
a greater amount of humus than the clay soils, also more
frequent cultivating on the surface if one expects to get
the most out of them. A question often arises as to the
advisability of plowing sandy soils in the fall for spring
planting. These water peculiarities of sandy soils
make a great difference between the time of plowing and
the planting season. In the chapter on the temperature
of the soil, reasons are given as to why sandy soil be-
comes warmer earlier in the spring than clay soil. This
earlier warming of sandy soil and the quickness with
which the soil compacts offer good reasons for per-


mitting a much shorter time between the plowing of the
ground and the planting of the crop.

The practice of growing a green cover crop of some
sort and plowing it under in the spring of the year
instead of in the fall is proving to be a very beneficial
and profitable process for sandy land, particularly if
those cover crops are nitrogen bearing plants, such as
clover, etc., simply because being plowed under in sandy
soil, they form a sort of reservoir for holding moisture as
well as yielding nitrates. The fact that sand does not
form clods or large air spaces makes a practice of this
kind profitable on sandy soils in the spring whereas it
would prove detrimental on clay soils on account of the
tendency of these soils to form clods and air spaces on
the bottom of the seed bed.

Depth of Plowing

DEPTH of plowing has been argued pro and con for
many years. A depth of six inches is regarded as deep
plowing by some and shallow by others. In this dis-
cussion two to four inches is regarded as shallow. faur_
to eight inches as medium and eight to sixteen inches as
deep plowing. The question that interests every
farmer and one that he must decide for himself is whether
he shall practice shallow or deep plowing on his farm,
and not what his neighbor regards as deep or shallow
plowing. One farmer makes great success of deep
plowing, another plows just as deep and meets with
dismal crop failure. One farmer plows deep in the fall
and grows a good crop the next year, another plows just
as deep in the fall and has a dismal failure the next year.
The same results are happening in deep spring plowing.
These being facts beyond dispute, something besides the
mere act of plowing must be taken into consideration
before a conclusion can be reached.

Advocates of deep fall plowing center their arguments
around the theory that deep plowing in the fall turns
the raw earth to the surface giving it the advantage of
the winter's freezing and atmospheric influences to bring
into play the fertility which is supposed to have lain
dormant or in unavailable form. The experience of
those who have deep fall plowed with disastrous results
the next year would tend to disprove this theory. The
fact that many men have deep plowed in the spring with
successful results would tend furthermore to prove that
fertility is made available by deep plowing in the spring.


These observations tend to the belief that those who
plow deep in the fall with bad results the next year,
must not have had fertility on the surface of the plowed
field or the winter's freezing destroyed it, and further
that the deep plowed field in the spring contains fertility.

If one regards these deductions as logical, the question
as to whether one should plow deep or shallow in the
fall or spring must be solely determined by the condition
of the land. The farmer must be absolutely certain that
he has the plant food elements in the soil either in avail-
able or unavailable form, and also whether freezing
influences are necessary for the liberation of that food.
How can this be determined?

It is doubtful whether samples taken from the surface
of a plowed field and examined by a soil chemist would
be of any practical value to the farmer for the simple
reason that the soil chemist would be unable to tell as
to the availability of these elements in the soil. The
most the chemist can do is to determine the amount and
kinds of elements that are in the sample submitted.
These deductions are apt to be entirely wrong as far as
the quantity over the whole field is concerned.

It is a question whether any man by following this
method can ever be sure as to what the soil needs on
account of the uncertainty of the amount of plant food
elements of all kinds existing in different portions of the
field. A much better way for a farmer who is not
positive as to what he is going to accomplish by deep
plowing is to do a little experimenting of his own. It
can be done very successfully providing the experimenter
has learned how to handle the different soils as discussed
in Chapter V.


Take five potfuls of soil from the field and test for
the elements required to grow the crop. In each of
these pots plant a few seeds of the crop desired to be
grown. To the first pot add nothing, to the second, a
quarter teaspoonful of sulphate of potash, or if that is
not obtainable use a teaspoonful of wood ashes. To the
third pot put a combination of the phosphate and
potash, to the fourth a quarter teaspoonful of sodium
nitrate or ammonium sulphate, and to the fifth a com-
bination of acid phosphate, sulphate of potash and

Whether the ground is plowed deep or shallow the condition of the
earth shown in this cross section of a plowed field must obtain before the
seed bed can be made a success. Deep plowing often shows a good
surface and hides a bad furrow bottom.

sodium nitrate. This sort of test is not, strictly speak-
ing, scientifically accurate, but it is close enough to show
anyone which of the three principal plant food elements,
phosphorus, potash and nitrogen, are lacking in the soil.

If the plant in the first pot refuses to grow, it is plainly
evident that the soil is lacking in plant food elements.
The growth of the plants in each of the pots will signify
in what the soil is lacking and what will be necessary to


add to that soil before it will produce. It is further
logical to assume that if the best growth takes place in
those pots that contain fertilizer or the plant food
elements which the farmer cannot hope to add to the
soil, it is unwise to plow the ground to that depth whether
he does it in the fall or spring. We often deceive our-
selves into thinking that soil plowed eight, nine, or ten
inches deep turns up soil fertility when it does not.

As far as the writer has been able to learn, there have
never been experiments tried to prove that winter's
freezing unlocks soil fertility any more than that the
winter's freezing of certain soil particles such as clay,
has a tendency to flocculate the soil, or break it into
small particles, so that the fertility contained in the soil
is made more available.

Obviously then, one must suppose that before deep
fall * or "spring plowing is indulged in it is necessary to
know whether the deep soil contains available fertility.

The other important question to decide is whether or
not the plowing can be done so as to leave the ground in
the proper tilth and condition for plant growth. This
can only be determined by having a knowledge of the soil
and how to handle it to bring about conditions of tilth.

The one great advantage of deep fall plowing over
deep spring plowing is that the fall plowing receives the
aid of t'ime, moisture and freezing to break up cloddy
formations that may have resulted from the plowing and
to compact the soil into a suitable condition for capillar-
ity to take place. In deep spring plowing, the ground
is often turned over in cloddy formations which are
detrimental to the compacting of the soil at the bottom
of the furrow on account of the depth at which it must



be worked. The result is a seed bed with a poor cap-
illary connection with the sub-surface. This fact, and
also the fact that barren soils are often turned over
make deep plowing in the spring questionable in a
great many localities, but where the soil can be turned
over in a friable condition and contains abundant plant
food, there is little to worry about deep plowing in the
spring providing the seed bed is compacted as it should be.

This depth of plowing attempted with a base designed for medium
depth plowing reoeals a badly turned furrow slice, poorly cleaned furrow
bottom. The illustration on the next page shows a side view of this


Deep plowing cannot be done successfully with a plow
having a capacity of not more than seven or eight inches
in depth, because it cannot possibly break up or pulverize
'a deep furrow\ This tact should be taken into serious
~cbnsideration~by anyone who attempts to do deep plow-
ing if he expects to plant a crop soon after the plowing
is done. Its curvature and shape will permit the passage
of thick slices over the mouldboard. But when the
plow is penetrating a depth beyond its capacity it
pulverizes poorly to that depth and the rest of the slice
is broken into clods which are usually thrown on the
bottom of the furrow. For this reason one who expects
to turn a depth of eight inches or more should secure a
plow with a bottom designed for this type of plowing.

Part of the furrow is turned on edge and is almost ready to fall back.

Attempting to use a plow having a capacity of eight
inches in those soils that stick together has a tendency
to set the furrow slice on edge and oftentimes the furrow
slice rolls back with the sod on top. Thus, the furrow
itself effectively offsets any influence the plow bottom
may exercise towards pulverization. This fact also
accounts for a great deal of deep plowing failure because



Plowing eleven inches deep with a bottom made especially for deep
plowing. Observe the clean furrow, smooth furrow bottom and wall,
and the furrow slice turned over properly. This plowing is in great
contrast to that illustrated on page fifty-five. On account of the depth at
which this plow is wording the greatest of care should be exercised to see
that the bottom of the furrow is properly made because none of the after
preparation implements such as the disk harrow, peg harrow, or roller
pulverizer can exert much influence on the bottom of the furrow.

the seed bed is left in such a manner that moisture
cannot come up from below by capillary attraction and
that which is on the surface either washes away or sinks
into the subsoil where it cannot rise again.



We must remember whether we are plowing shallow,
medium, or deep that the ground must always be left in
condition at the bottom of the furrow for capillarity to
take place with the subsoil. We cannot judge this by
looking at the surface. It is necessary to dig into
the ground the depth of the plowing and observe the
condition. When we do this we will often see things
that surprise us, and the explanation for many a deep
plowing failure can be satisfactorily found.

The great advantage of deep plowing is that it offers
deeper root beds for the crops. The mellower the
ground is the easier the roots grow and penetrate.

Side view of the deep plowing with the proper bottom illustrated on
page fifty-seven. Observe how this soil is being turned over. The
crack through the center of the furrow slice shows the immense pressure
being exerted to pulverize the furrow slice from top to bottom. Observe
also in the plowed field the lack f large clods and holes. The manner
in which this bottom forces the top of the furrow slice against the ground
and then crushes it as the plow advances is obvious.

With the deep plowing the plant has the additional
advantage of getting farther into the ground, thus
enabling it to drink in more plant food and have the


advantage of more moisture in the dryer season of the
year. This season is nearly always the flowering time
of the plant, and accounts in a large measure, for the
additional crops that are grown on deeper plowed seed
beds which are properly compacted and cultivated on
the surface for the retention of moisture.

It is equally obvious that if the deep plowed ground
is not compacted properly on the start for the retention
of moisture and improperly cultivated, or not cultivated
later, that the deeper the seed bed the more moisture
will escape.

Chapter V on handling soils brings out the fact that
the water holding content is determined by the size of
the soil grains, hence, we can expect sandy soils to dry
out much more rapidly than clay soils and thus produce
less unless the proper precautions are taken to save the

Sandy soils have less fertility to turn up in deep plow-
ing than clay soils, hence a farmer who has any type of a
sandy soil should be very careful in his plowing to see
that the plant food elements are in the surface after the
ground is plowed if he has to put them there by means
of artificial fertilizers. The very nature of sand prevents
it from puddling and forming clods, but is propitious to
the rapid escapement of moisture.

A grave question arises in deep plowing as to the
value of spreading a heavy coat of manure on the surface
and turning it under providing the plowing is done
deeper than the habits or customs of the roots of the
plant for penetrating the soil. If the soil above the
spread manure contains sufficient fertility to grow the

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryCharles Allen BaconThe Oliver plow book : a treatise on plows and plowing → online text (page 3 of 10)